Small-ball is becoming a bit more popular in recent seasons among NBA teams, which is why it’s not that surprising to hear the Cleveland Cavaliers are considering starting Tristan Thompson at center in the upcoming season instead of Anderson Varejao, although some of the though process has to do with the Brazilian being injured so easily.
The arrival of LeBron James and Kevin Love, both players who can play in two different positions, makes things a bit more versatile and interesting for the Cavaliers in terms of how they play their five men on court. Varejao is their best traditional center, but he hasn’t been healthy for a full season since the 2009-2010 campaign, playing in 76 games. Since then it’s been 31, 25, 25 and last season a more impressive 65 games while averaging 27.7 minutes a night.
Varejao’s injuries haven’t come from fatigue or erosion – it’s mostly about freak accidents or injuries, not the matter of playing too many minutes. But he’s 32, with too many injuries in his past to consider playing without some sort of backup or creative thinking. That’s why Thompson, the 6’9 power forward who is entering his fourth year in the league, might spend a lot of minutes at center next season.
Not his natural position, obviously, and he might be too small to guard certain players. However, Thompson has played some center in the past and is athletic enough to make up for height issues against slower players. There’s also the option of having Kevin Love, who’ll probably be playing at power forward, guarding the bigger man when the two of them are on the floor together.
Thompson might eventually not end up starting. Right now the plan seems to be a front court of Varejao at center, Love at power forward and James at small forward. But Thompson, who has been close to a double-double guy for the last couple of seasons (11.7 points, 9.2 rebounds in 31.6 minutes last season) is going to be spending a lot of time on the court, bench player or not.
Instead of who? Probably Varejao, who the Cavaliers are going to be more and more careful with his minutes this season. While the major talent is spread out in different positions, losing Varejao to an injury because the minutes were mismanaged will be a blow that’ll be almost impossible to recover from.